SALISBURY – North Rowan boys’ basketball coach Jason Causby attended a wedding on Friday.
In other words, life moves on for coaches, teams and basketball fans after a traumatic and terrifying Wednesday night that could spell the end of the Christmas tournament, a staple of Rowan County sports for 50 years. .
That more people were not seriously injured – or killed – at the Goodman Gym in Catawba was nothing short of a miracle. The danger from the bullets that flew – one passed through the crowded hall but did not hit anyone in any way – was very real, but the panic and stampede caused by the gunfire was potentially much more deadly.
The girls’ last game on Wednesday night – a West Rowan-Salisbury semi-final – didn’t end well. The competition was fierce, hotly contested, another tough and defensive victory at Salisbury, as the Hornets, chasing their first tournament trophy since 2016, earned their place in the Championship game.
Players from both teams controlled each other during the game and were even graceful in the handshake line, but there were words and pushes as they made their way to the locker room. It took some time for officials to sort things out after this brief scuffle, delaying the start of the West-North Rowan boys’ semi-final.
When they hit the ground, these teams put on an exciting first half, battling to determine who would face Salisbury in Thursday night’s league game, which would have been played in front of a full house.
At half-time, deep in the basement of the Goodman Gym, Causby and his assistants met outside the North locker room, as usual, before entering the room to address the ‘team.
“We were in the stairwell talking about adjustments for three or four minutes,” Causby said. “I knew we only had about six minutes left before we had to get back to the ground, so I felt a little rushed. I was making some adjustments to the board when I heard screaming, which sounded like a stampede, basically panic. Since our changing room is under the playing floor, there was a lot of noise overhead. I looked at the ceiling and knew something was wrong. One of the coaches suggested that maybe it was just the cheerleaders doing their halftime routine, but I knew that didn’t feel right to me. I looked at (assistant coach) Nick Means, and he was leaving. All I could think of at the time was my family was up there. My wife would be at the scorer’s table because she keeps our book. My three kids were in the stands or in the concession area, and I think they get trampled if people fight and shoot.
When Causby headed for the stairs, Means was already knocking down Means’ daughter and Causby’s youngest son, Griggs. They had left running towards the North locker room, as soon as they heard the shots.
“Nick said people were shooting, don’t go up there,” Causby said. “But my wife is up there.”
As he started up the stairs, Causby was greeted by waves of panicked fans, screaming and crying, heading the other direction.
“I tell people as I walk past that there is an emergency exit at the bottom of the stairs,” Causby said. “But now I’m starting to panic myself because I can’t even climb the stairs due to the large number of people fleeing the gym. I try to fight on the stairs and by the grace of God I see my daughter, Jaysa, and she is shaken like everyone else, but she is fine. I took her to the locker room and pushed her inside and told her to stay put. Our assistant coaches did a great job keeping our players in the locker room and even bringing in kids who couldn’t find their parents in all the confusion.
Causby finally made it up the stairs and into the gym. It was then that he reunited with his wife and eldest son.
“Gray was at the concession stand, within 10 feet of the fight,” Causby said. “When he saw the guns come out, he ran into the gym, looking for his mom at the scorer’s table. She was about to run when she saw waves of people coming towards her. She grabbed Gray and they went under the scorer’s table.
Causby eventually took his wife and son to the northern locker room. He was about to go up to the gym for one more mission – to report on his mother, stepmom, and stepfather – when he saw the three of them coming down the stairs.
“We ended up with all kinds of people in our locker room, people from Novant, athletic coaches, former players, cheerleaders, kids and parents,” Causby said. “It was unlike anything I had seen before, but a lot of people really came together. We help the young people find their parents. We walked people back to their cars once we were cleared to leave. . “
West Rowan boys’ coach Mike Gurley’s wife was at the concession stand and was knocked down by the stampede. A young member of Gurley’s family was at the helm and was grabbed by Catawba’s assistant football coach Tim Pangburn, a West Rowan graduate, and stuffed into a ball closet to keep him from panicking.
At around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Salisbury seniors Rachel McCullough and Jaleiah Gibson spoke about how much winning their first Christmas tournament would mean to them.
These dreams were gone an hour later.
“A mixture of emotions,” McCullough said on social media. “I’m grateful that we won and got to be on the pitch with the best team and the best coaches. We’re still champions in my book, and no one is going to take it away from us. But all of a sudden it became one of the scariest days of my life. I’m really disappointed that this moment we were working on is gone. But, my heart goes out to those who were there. I am proud of our community and the way we came together in this gymnasium after the shots rang out. The Sam Moir Christmas Tournament lives with me forever.
The madness of Wednesday gradually gave way to the sadness of Thursday, a day without Championship games not only for the winner North / West, but for the boys from Salisbury, who had advanced to the final with a scintillating performance in first half against Davie County. Girls Carson and Salisbury, who were once again turned away from a collision on the biggest stage, were also denied the chance to hug a trophy. COVID has prevented a likely clash for the Carson-Salisbury Championship in 2020.
“I hate that we can’t play in our championship game, but we control what we can control,” Carson coach Brooke Stouder said. “So we trained on Thursday, filled our stomachs and had a lot of fun. I can’t wait for a good start to 2022.
“I hate it, especially for my seniors who have worked so hard at the moment, but now we have to prepare for the conference game,” said Salisbury girls coach Lakai Brice.
The West Rowan boys celebrated Thursday with a team meal.
“Although we are the West Rowan Falcons, we were temporarily the West Rowan Phoenixes on Thursday, rising from the ashes of Wednesday’s madness,” Gurley said. “Strong, together, fearless, harder. Roll on 2022. “
There is a full schedule of South Piedmont Conference games for Tuesday – East Rowan at Central Cabarrus; West Rowan to Lake Norman Charter; Carson at Northwest Cabarrus and South Rowan at Concord.
The key game for the boys is West Rowan at Lake Norman Charter. The two are among the top teams in the SPC, where seven teams appear to be playing for second place behind a Central Cabarrus juggernaut who could be the best in 3A. The Vikings visit West Rowan on Friday.
The key girl game is Carson at Northwest Cabarrus. It’s a tough place to play, but if Carson can win there, the Cougars are the team to beat in the conference. The West Girls beat Northwest Cabarrus at Mount Ulla to hand the Trojans their first loss, but Northwest has traditionally been a different team at home than on the road.
Salisbury returns to the field for Wednesday’s Central Carolina Conference game at East Davidson. Neither of the two Salisbury teams should have any problems there.
North Rowan is scheduled to play non-conference home games against South Stanly on Tuesday. The Cavaliers haven’t played at home since December 6.
All of Rowan’s teams will be looking to leave behind Wednesday night and enjoy a normal season. But it won’t be easy.
“It was a crazy, miserable scene,” Causby said. “It’s sad that a tournament that has been so good for players, coaches and fans for so long has been ruined by some senseless act. I have so many fond memories of the tournament as a player, coach and fan, and I’m disappointed that this is what my family is taking with them.When you can’t attend a high school sporting event without fearing for your family, it’s a sad day for Rowan County.